bookcover_200-2.jpgMicro Autobiography: The New Literary Craze.

Can you sumarize your life in just SIX words? How about your future? Try it!

I found having to condense my life down to just six words to be a fascinating challenge, a real test of what I valued, of what had shaped me (not always the same thing). I found attempting to forecast my future in six words equaling insightful. Try it, both backwards and forwards, and please share if you are so moved! Mine (with comments) are a bit below, followed by two articles on this trend from The New Yorker and NPR.


“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” (Ernest Hemingway)

“Love New York; Hate Self (Equally).”

“Divorced! Thank God for Internet personals.”

“Birth, childhood, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence…”

“Not quite what I was planning…”

“Born in California. Then nothing happened.”

“Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs.” (Aimee Mann)

“Brought it to a boil, often.” (Mario Batali)

“Fix a toilet, get paid crap.” (Plumber)

“Woman Seeks Men—High Pain Threshold.”

“God called; Mother listened; I responded.” (Canadian minister)

Fictictious Samples:

“Little brother; big game; last laugh.” (Eli Manning)

“Morning girl goes serious at night.” (Katie Couric)

“From Ill.; met Bill; iron will.” (Hillary)

 NSC’s Micro Autobiography:

“Elizabeth. JYB. Real Estate. Ani. Nate.”

(Elizabeth was my Mom, JYB my first wife, Ani my second and final wife, Nate my first born and an adorable cutie, a late life gift I owe to my wife’s perseverance. I found it very interesting that it is relationships that predominated my thoughts and all of them with women. Real Estate refers to my professional career and the business I have created, which occupies a lot of my time/energy/focus/effort. I very much wanted to mention my father, many dear friends Ken and Linda specifically, Gainesville, the University of Florida, all things and people that have greatly impacted my life.)

NSC’s Future Autobiography:

“Ani. Nate. Writing. Transcendence. 100. ?”

(Relationships still predominate, writing refers to my desire to move more into the creative side of my self, the belief that my greatest growth is there. Transcendence is the highest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, the one beyond self actualization, that he added late in his life. The 100 hundred refers to my desire to live, healthy, active, and happy well into triple digits. The “?” refers to the unknown, the yet to be. I debated putting something in about business because it is such an important part of my life’s focus, it was a close runner up to the “?.” In the end it was the allure of the unknown, the desire to leave an open door, room for mystery. Of course, I thought about whether punctuation marks counted but since I meant mine to have so meaning I decided it did count.)


Excerpted from “Not Quite What I Was Planning” from Smithmagazine
Edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith. Copyright 2008.

After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.
– Robin Templeton

70 years, few tears, hairy ears.
– Bill Querengesser

Watching quietly from every door frame.
– Nicole Resseguie

Catholic school backfired. Sin is in!
– Nikki Beland

Savior complex makes for many disappointments.
– Alanna Schubach

Nobody cared, then they did. Why?
– Chuck Klosterman

Some cross-eyed kid, forgotten then found.
– Diana Welch

She said she was negative. Damn.
– Ryan McRae

Born in the desert, still thirsty.
– Georgene Nunn

A sake mom, not soccer mom.
– Shawna Hausman

I asked. They answered. I wrote.
– Sebastian Junger

No future, no past. Not lost.
– Matt Brensilver

Extremely responsible, secretly longed for spontaneity.
– Sabra Jennings

Joined Army. Came out. Got booted.
– Johan Baumeister

Almost a victim of my family
– Chuck Sangster

The psychic said I’d be richer.
– Elizabeth Bernstein

Grumpy old soundman needs love, too.
– Lennie Rosengard

Mom died, Dad screwed us over.
– Lesley Kysely

Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.
– Linda Williamson

Write about sex, learn about love.
– Martha Garvey


by Lizzie Widdicombe
The New Yorker, February 25, 2008

Brevity: a good thing in writing. Exploited by texters, gossip columnists, haikuists. Not associated with the biography genre. But then—why shouldn’t it be? Life expectancies rise; attention spans shrink. Six words can tell a story. That’s a new book’s premise, anyway. “Not Quite What I Was Planning.” A compilation of teeny tiny memoirs. The forebear, it’s assumed, is Hemingway. (Legend: he wrote a miniature masterpiece. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Slightly sappy, but a decent sixer.)

The book’s originator: SMITH online magazine. It started as a reader contest: Your life story in six words. The magazine was flooded with entries. Five hundred-plus submissions per day. That’s two, three words a minute. “We almost crashed,” an editor said. Memoirs from plumbers and a dominatrix (“Fix a toilet, get paid crap”; “Woman Seeks Men——High Pain Threshold”). The editors have culled the best. And, happily, spliced in celebrity autobiographies: “Canada freezing. Gotham beckons. Hello, Si!” “Well, I thought it was funny.” “Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs.” (Graydon Carter, Stephen Colbert, Aimee Mann.) Mario Batali makes a memorable appearance: “Brought it to a boil, often.” So does Jimmy Wales, of Wikipedia: “Yes, you can edit this biography.” Still, there are not nearly enough. Where’s Eli Manning, and Katie Couric? (“Little brother; big game; last laugh”? “Morning girl goes serious at night”?) And what of the Presidential candidates? (“From Ill.; met Bill; iron will.”) Something from Obama would be nice: “Hope is stronger than dope, kids!” A Canadian minister has done Jesus’: “God called; Mother listened; I responded.” Quieter lives can be condensed, too. The editors offer a few guidelines. “Try not to think too hard.” That’s from SMITH’s editor, Larry Smith. It’s impossible, of course, to follow. There’s the temptation to be ironic: “Born in California. Then nothing happened.” Or to blurt out something angry: “Everyone who loved me is dead.” “Try to use specifics,” Smith added. (“After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.”) That doesn’t rule out dazzling nonsense. “Eat mutate aura amateur auteur true” (Jonathan Lethem’s nesting-doll-like memoir). Wistful recollections work; so does repetition: “Canoe guide, only got lost once.” “Birth, childhood, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence…” You could spend a lifetime brainstorming.

The book party: Housing Works, downtown. Cookies and beer on a table. Sticky notes and markers up front: “Write your memoir on your nametag!” In back, Alex Cummings, twenty-six (“Arab hillbilly goes to New York”). He’s Egyptian, born in West Virginia. He’d come with his wife, Saira. She did not wear a nametag: “It’s hard to summarize your life.” Nearby was the author Maryrose Wood (“Divorced! Thank God for Internet personals”). She reminisced about a Sondheim show. She had been a chorus girl. She sang a lyric about divorces. “My career has come full circle.” Next, Justin Taylor——reddish hair, beard (“Former child star seeks love, employment”). A onetime child model in Miami. He’d posed for German fashion magazines. “You wouldn’t know, looking at me.” The writer David Rakoff was there. He wasn’t wearing a nametag, either. “I’m not really a nametag guy.” He said he liked his memoir: “Love New York; Hate Self (Equally).” It was similar to his books. “The same sort of glib persona.”

Julie Goss had driven from D.C. (“Inside suburban mom beats urban heart”). She was talking to Anthony Ramirez—a Metro reporter at the Times. He had submitted a memoir, too. The SMITH editors hadn’t used it. Ramirez said his feelings were hurt: “I desperately wanted to get in.” There was Summer Grimes, twenty-five. She’s a hairdresser in St. Paul. She had written the book’s title. It took “two minutes,” she explained. She had forgotten all about it. Then SMITHsent her an e-mail: “Your contest entry has been chosen.” She thought it was a scam. Then she saw the book——Amazon. She answered the next SMITH e-mail. They told her about the party. They sent a free book, too. Grimes opened it to her memoir: “Not quite what I was planning…” She wasn’t sure about the ellipsis: “Now I’m totally second-guessing myself.”


Talk of the Nation
February 7, 2008

Once asked to write a full story in six words, legend has it that novelist Ernest Hemingway responded: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In this spirit of simple yet profound brevity, the online magazine Smith asked readers to write the story of their own lives in a single sentence. The result is “Not Quite What I Was Planning,” a collection of six-word memoirs by famous and not-so-famous writers, artists and musicians. Their stories are sometimes sad, often funny — and always concise.

The book is full of well-known names — from writer Dave Eggers (Fifteen years since last professional haircut), to singer Aimee Mann (Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs), to comedian Stephen Colbert (Well, I thought it was funny).

The collection has plenty of six-word insights from everyday folks as well: Love me or leave me alone was scrawled on a hand dryer in a public bathroom; I still make coffee for two was penned by a 27-year-old who had just been dumped.

Larry Smith, founding editor of Smith magazine, and Rachel Fershleiser, Smith’s memoir editor, talk about the experience of capturing real-life stories in six words — no more, no less.

Fershleiser’s six-word memoir? Bespectacled, besneakered, read and ran around. And Smith’s: Big hair, big heart, big hurry.


Click Here to see a: Gallery of illustrated six-word memoirs